Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning from the Master

In the early 1900's Edward Thorndike posed a theory of learning known as connectionism.  The basic idea of the theory is that we learn as the brain compiles information from stimulus, forms neural networks, files these bits of information away and then recompiles them into learned information.  Learning is reinforced by repeating the process (we exercise our memories by repetition), by positive or negative reinforcement (a good outcome strengthens the learned information and a negative outcome weakens the 'connection') and by how ready/willing (by our passion to grasp the data or by learning in an environment that is conducive to learning) we are to actually learn.  I know this learning theory might seem a bit distant from what I usually write in my blog, but bear with me.

I will avoid the educational theory but when you think about it, God gives us His Son and His Word to teach us.  He is "training up His children in the way we should go" so that when we are older we will return to it (God's path).  God is truly into teaching, but how is His teaching different from what we usually experience?  Most of us grew up in a western educational system that basically gives us information which places knowledge in our heads.  That knowledge changes what we know and is very 'head-oriented" by nature.  Hebrew teaching/learning is very different in it's goal.  Jesus was a great example of the Hebrew process.  Jesus provided information but didn't leave it there.  His information was often given to us in a story that we must listen to and process.  Part of the learning was the effort involved with placing out mind into the picture that he is showing us.  It requires more than just storing information.  In fact, the Hebrew learning process makes the learner repeat and reprocess the information because we must roll it over in our minds and replay the story/picture.  Then, after the story, Jesus would give us a principle, sometimes as a question (i.e., "which one of these was a neighbor?" [in the story of the good Samaritan]) and then a command for action/application (same story, "Go thou and do likewise").  The learner, in order to get to the end of the learning process, must apply the truth and see what happens.  The goal of the information, then, is the change in behavior (rather than the changed information in our brains).

When I look at this I believe this is why I see so many Bible studies, so many opportunities to learn and so little changed behavior.  It is why I see us resist things that Jesus would have assumed as basic, God-led behavior (like tithing, caring for our neighbor, love for our parents, etc.).  Our knowledge, if we are true to our faith, needs to begin to settle into our behavior or we haven't truly learned from the Biblical perspective.  I don't know about you, but I will spend some time trying to apply the things I have learned ... then maybe I will begin to be molded by the God who teaches.  I, for one, want to become a better student who applies his knowledge rather than keeping it in my head.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Most Freeing Thing Ever

I see a lot of people in various stages of bondage.  They are bound by substances, choices, other people, jobs, relationships and all manners of external things.  But there is one thing ... one thing that is truly a Messianic promise ... that can help in each of these circumstances and give us freedom wherever we are physically located.  It is the most freeing thing ever!

Jesus continues to speak to us as He reads from Isaiah's scroll from Luke, Chapter 4.  Jesus tells us He has been anointed to "preach Good News to the poor."  Then Jesus says, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind."  Sunday we will break this down further, but for the purposes of our blog, let's focus on "recovery of sight to the blind."  This is a loaded statement that deserves a bit of unpacking.  First, let's look at recovery.  You recover something you once had but somehow have lost.  I believe this describes all of God's people who have been made in the image and likeness of God.  We have been given the ability to see and perceive spiritual things ... a sense of the spiritual realm that is real but suppressed by this world in which we live.  We are often told that somehow what we see every day is all that there is but deep down each of us knows and senses something bigger, greater and more real.  St. Augustine called this a God-shaped hole in our heart that can only be filled by God-stuff.  Carolyn Arends, in her song "Reaching" says:

"And later lying in the dark, I felt a stirring in my heart
And though I longed to see what could not be seen
I still believed

I guess, I shouldn't think it odd, Until we see the face of God
The yearning deep within us tells us, There's more to come

So when we taste of the divine, It leaves us hungry every time
For one more taste of what awaits, When Heaven's Gates are reached"

We long for a relationship and connection to God and, in its absence, try to fill that space with the inadequate things of this world.

But we don't just recover something lost ... as we grow spiritually we open our eyes and see what was there when we were blind.  We see colors we never knew existed.  We see beauty that only connection to God can reveal.  And, and here is the most freeing thing ever ... we see ourselves clearly.  All of our warts (and this is painful) and all of our beauty (this is almost too good to be true).  One of my professors rightly talked about this trait of the "likeness of God" as transcendence.  It is the ability to step outside of ourselves and see ourselves and others clearly.  We honestly see our own motives.  We see our situations as they actually are ... not as we would like to imagine them.  We see our children as real people with real issues but also amazing beauty and promise.  We see our lives clearly and become able to tweak, make adjustments and make real change (something impossible in the delusional world of blindness).  And a church full of 1st century Jews are hearing Jesus read this beautiful promise and they have the chance to see themselves clearly as He reads and then teaches.

As I said, we will unpack this further Sunday, but I will leave you with a question.  How did those Jews react?  Did they leave enlightened and seeing, or did they leave blind?  How will you leave Sunday?  Will you learn from the one they called 'Teacher' or will you continue to live in the fog ... never becoming the transcendent creature you were created to be?  Good questions I think!  Pastor Randy

Monday, January 7, 2013


Sunday we will examine a word that most of us don't like.  The word is "poor."  What do you think of when you hear the word "poor?"

Some of us think of those who have made bad choices and have ended up in poverty.  Some desire to help this group.  Some say, "They made their bed ... now let them sleep in it."  Some feel duty bound to help the poor but they help reluctantly and suspiciously, feeling that the poor are dishonest and always out to scam the system.  Some just want to ignore this version of the poor.  The question for us is ... how does Jesus lead us to treat the poor.

Another version of "poor" is the poor in spirit (from the beatitudes).  We have been taught that these are folks who might be beat down by life and beat up by others (sounds like most of us to me).  Often we view these people as weak or unable to handle their own business.  What does Jesus say about them?

Both instances use the word Ptochos which in the Greek means "poor and helpless ... one who needs lifting."  The idea is that both groups cannot make it on their own strength ... they essentially do not have the capacity (without God) to navigate life and get to the place god has prepared without God's help.  I like that definition.  It describes all who understand our real dilemma in life ... we cannot (on our own power) get from our sin-filled and spiritually poor life to God's place where He makes all things new.  It highlights the idea that when the praise band sings the song, "All the Poor and Powerless" the words describe the condition we must be in to receive what God has for us.

I meet too many people who say, "I can handle my on stuff ... God helps those who help themselves ... we can fix our own situation ... we are self-sufficient."  The problem I see every day is ... these fixes don't work and at the end of the day we are left with useless cliches that contain none of God's power, forgiveness and provision.  As I have seen life play our in so many families, self-sufficient is not sufficient at all!  Jesus might say, "Come and I will give you living water from a well that never runs dry."  Sounds like a good plan to me!